I’ve written extremely briefly on Accumulation By Dispossession in contemporary Cambodia previously.

A definition of Accumulation By Dispossession from Wikipedia:

Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by the Marxist geographer David Harvey, which defines the neoliberal capitalist policies in many western nations, from the 1970s and to the present day, as resulting in a centralization of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth or land.[1] These neoliberal policies are guided mainly by four practices: privatization, financialization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions.

David Harvey, who invented the term, can probably do the best job explaining it:

There appears to be an irony here: the term Accumulation By Dispossession is in many ways an an attempt to update Marx’s Primitive Accumulation for the neo-Liberal era. By “Primitive,” Marx mean “originary,” as an answer to the question, “where did the employing class get the wealth necessary to invest in the creation of means of production such as factories?” The term was not intended as pejorative but is certainly received as such by many; given the history of supposedly ‘civilized’ groups’ actions towards supposed ‘primitives,’ the dislike of the term is easily understandable.

Regardless, Harvey’s reworking of “Primitive Accumulation” into Accumulation By Dispossession describes some modern neo-liberal practices very well, but it seems to lose the ability to capture precisely the dynamics that Marx was describing in the Enclosure Movement in England: how did individuals get enough wealth in order to found companies and build factories? Once one has a corporation, Accumulation By Dispossession describes things nicely. But what about cases where it’s not primarily large corporations doing the dispossessing?

One of the hardest questions to answer when considering the question of accumulation by dispossession is how the individuals doing the dispossessing justify it to themselves. How does one justify actions typically considered theft by one’s neighbors, whom one is often dispossessing? It’s easier to comprehend, I suppose, if it’s a large corporate exploitation or colonial exploitation. Is the model of accumulation by dispossession flexible enough to describe a process like the one that Pamela McElwee writes about in her book, Forests are Gold: Trees, People and Environmental Rule in Vietnam (2016, University of Washington Press).


I haven’t read the book yet, but am always interested in questions where labor and environment come together, especially in Southeast Asia. This podcast episode, from the New Books in Anthropology podcast, part of the New Books Network, features Nick Cheesman interviewing McElwee. Shortly after the 50 min point, the conversation takes a fascinating turn, when McElwee starts discussing precisely the problem above: when semi-local individuals are the prime movers in Accumulation By Dispossession.

Highly recommended.

Accumulation By Dispossession in Vietnam – Book Note


Episcope: “Begininning a Sketch of Accumulation by Dispossession in Contemporary Cambodia”

A new short piece of my writing has been published over at Episcope. It’s called “Beginning a Sketch of Accumulation by Dispossession in Contemporary Cambodia,” and I hope you go check it out. I’ve written about Accumulation by Dispossession, or ‘Primitive Accumulation,’ on this blog frequently in the past. Click here to see those posts. There are pictures by photographer John Vink as well, to induce you to click this link.

Episcope is a relatively new online blog from Cultural Anthropology, and is attempting to promote different types of ethnographic writing, as indicated in this partial description:

This is an experiment. The insights of anthropologists are usually sequestered in academic circles, networks, and classrooms. Our work is also often constrained within a slow, arduous publishing process such that our writings frequently fail to address in an immediate way the pressing realities we often grapple with in our fieldwork. For these among other reasons, anthropologists rarely affect how current issues are enacted in mainstream narratives.

Thanks, Episcope!

cambodia, question

Maps of Primitive Accumulation in Cambodia, via Land Concessions: and an argument?

An article in today’s Phnom Penh Post announces that the Kingdom’s Arable Land All But Gone, according to a report by AdHoc, and as a direct result of the vast practice of Economic Land Concessions, which I associate with Primitive Accumulation. In order to make clear what I mean by that, compare this quote from AdHoc, with the description of the enclosure movement in England (the primary example of Primitive Accumulation):

Exploratory mining concessions had been included in this calculation, he said, because while firms granted these rights did not technically own the land, they acted like it in practice by erecting fences and expelling villagers from the area.

Here’s a wikipedia article on the English Enclosure movement.

Now, I’m not a geographer, so haven’t been able to really sort through this other map, created by someone at the MangoMap weblog, with the title “Lies, Damn Lies, and Maps,” which seems to be somewhat critical of this original map (?) and attempts to correct it.  I’d love to hear from those with more knowledge, what this is supposed to represent:


Accumulation by Dispossession in Cambodia

Accumulation by Dispossession is the phrase David Harvey uses to discuss contemporary, so-called Primitive Accumulation: the commodification and privatization of goods, for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, and to the detriment and subjugation of all other classes. Primitive Accumulation, in turn, is the term Karl Marx used to describe the process of ‘enclosing the commons,’ forcing workers off of their relationship to the land and into the ranks of waged labor, the necessary factor of production that capitalists remain in need of, after they have accumulated and come into control of their machines of production. Here’s a link to a nice video by David Harvey discussing Primitive Accumulation, and here’s one discussing Accumulation by Dispossession.

I introduce these terms in order to contextualize the two videos below.  Both are examples of Primitive Accumulation, perhaps obviously so.  One takes place in the highlands, and the other takes place in a formerly middle-class neighborhood in the capital city. Both involve violence – both police and vigilante – and the law.  Primitive Accumulation and Accumulation by Dispossession are taking place simultaneously in Cambodia; it occurs to me now, that this might need to be paid closer attention to.

Both videos below are from the Asia Media Lab.